Stepping Up to the Plate
With another week in the books, we have guys making it into the history books, guys getting sucker punched and Bartolo Colon hitting dingers. Oh yeah, the season is in full swing (no pun intended).
First Base: Scherzer, Nats, cementing contender status
With the Nationals and the Mets set to face-off on Tuesday in a series that will likely determine first place for the NL East, Max Scherzer sent an indirect message to the defending NL Champs on Thursday: come get some.
Scherzer fanned 20 in a match-up against his former club, the Detroit Tigers, in a complete game victory. Not only did Scherzer sit down 20, but he did it somewhat efficiently with 119 pitches. While the Mets don’t seem particularly worried at this point with the seeming fatigue of their starters, they should be worried about how the Nats are playing this year.
Some originally saw the NL East as the NL Easy for New York – myself included. But with the Nationals, and the resurgent Philadelphia Phillies (who actually sit a half-game ahead of the Mets in second place as of Sunday), that forecast is starting to change.
The Mets shouldn’t be concerned, but they should be ready for a fight. When you consider the Nationals are 38 games into the season and still haven’t hit particularly well (outside of former Met Daniel Murphy and your REIGNING, DEFENDING National League MVP Bryce Harper), with five members of their starting lineup hitting under .230, the Mets should be worried for when Washington really starts to hit.
Second Base: Odor d. Bautista via TKO (Top 8)
You could almost hear boxing announcer Jim Lampley in the background calling the near knockout punch that Rangers’ second baseman Rougned Odor landed on Jose Bautista.
In a 7-6 Rangers W on Sunday, Texas second baseman Rougned Odor played his rendition of chin music for Blue Jays’ outfielder José Bautista. After Bautista went in hard with a late, illegal (and dirty) slide on Odor, Odor responded by absolutely nailing Bautista with a right cross on the chin that staggered Bautista and made Evander Holyfield proud, somewhere, wherever he is.
With the Blue Jays developing the Angry Birds persona, maybe Odor going upper deck on Bautista is the smelling salt that the Jays need to step their game up this season.
With the Jays a game under .500 and worryingly returning to mediocrity as per, well, pretty much every year before last and after ’93, Bautista needs to start hitting. He’s sitting at just .215 on the season, and leads the team in double plays, grounding into 7. While he’s still seeing pitches and drawing walks (with 30 on the year), the face of Toronto baseball needs to spend less time worrying about getting hit and more time getting hits.
However, Bautista isn’t the only Jay that’s scuffling. In his first full year with the team, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki isn’t even hitting his weight this year: sitting at .185 (he does have 8 home runs and 20 RBI on the season), the Jays can’t afford to have Tulo hitting under .200 the rest of the way – especially if their pitching is going to hold its own as it has to this point.
Third Base: Will the Real Jason Heyward Please Stand Up
The Cubs are winning the NL Central. Hell, the Cubs are probably going to win the World Series. But how long can the Cubs deal with the mediocrity that is Jason Heyward?
The Cubs are a pretty mystifying team, if only you look at their stats: they rank first in the NL in runs and on base percentage, but last in plate appearances. They’re first in walks, but third in strikeouts. It’s a typical Joe Maddon team: aggressive at bats force pitchers to think twice of where they’re tossing. But their big offseason investment in Jason Heyward hasn’t exactly panned out yet.
Heyward is hitting .236, and while he has never been considered a true power threat, he has yet to connect with his first home run this season. While his OBP is sitting at a healthy .347, Heyward is just off this year.
While I believe the Cubs paid a fair price for Heyward given his age and his upside, he’s not on pace to eclipse or even match his numbers from last year with St. Louis. Playing the majority of his games in the 2 spot in the lineup doesn’t lend himself to many RBI opportunities, but the fact that his OPS is just .633 is a testament to Heyward’s inability to hit for power this year. He’s hitting over .100 points lower than his career low slugging percentage. You know what you’re going to get defensively with Heyward: he has yet to make an error in 58 chances in right and center this year, he hasn’t filled the power void that Kyle Schwarber left behind due to injury.
While 2015 is looking more like a flash in the pan, and the Cubbies can afford to sacrifice some offense from one spot in their lineup, it would benefit Chicago a great deal if Heyward can pick it up, and quick.
Rounding Third, Heading Home
Bryce Harper is 100% correct here. As much as I have always loved baseball, this season has been sprinkled with a little of everything. While involvement at the high school level is low, I have a hard time seeing how Bryce and others in the sport aren’t helping build the popularity with youth again by being, well, young himself. It will only be on the up-and-up for years to come.
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